Indy 500: The significance of one overlooked change

Robert Wickens, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, IndyCar (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
Robert Wickens, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, IndyCar (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images) /

This year’s Indy 500 is set to see the return of a number which has been sidelined for several years due to a tragic accident.

Arrow McLaren SP, the team formed in late 2019 by a partnership between Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and McLaren, have operated as a two-car Chevrolet team since joining IndyCar in 2020.

Pato O’Ward was named the driver of the #5 Chevrolet and rookie Oliver Askew was named the driver of the #7 Chevrolet for the 2020 season. Former Chip Ganassi Racing driver Felix Rosenqvist replaced Askew ahead of the 2021 season, and the team retained both O’Ward and Rosenqvist for 2022.

Also. Danica Patrick's worst crash. light

But for the Indy 500, Arrow McLaren SP have run three cars, and they are planning to do so again in 2022. In 2020, they welcomed two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso, who piloted the #66 Chevrolet. In 2021, they welcomed two-time Indy 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya, who piloted the #86 Chevrolet.

Montoya, who finished in ninth place last year, is set to return to the team alongside O’Ward and Rosenqvist again this year.

He got warmed up this past Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in the GMR Grand Prix, and the team’s two full-time drivers couldn’t be more excited to have him back.

“He’s a great guy to have around – a lot of fun and obviously someone who knows exactly what he needs to win around that place,” O’Ward told Beyond the Flag. “I think he’s a great addition to have within the team. And I think he can say the same. I think he truly enjoys working with Felix and I, and the whole group of Arrow McLaren SP. Just looking forward to building on what we all kind of put up as a base last year.”

Rosenqvist shared similar thoughts.

“For some reason, I’m always smiling when you mention Juan Pablo – because the character, you know? There’s no bullshit from him,” he said. “He always says what he thinks, and I think that goes along pretty well with me and Pato. We’re all different drivers with different personalities, but I think that it was a good mix, especially in engineering and stuff like that, I think we have a good way of working.

“It’s kind of a unique situation to come back and just have the three same drivers, same engineers, same everything, just building on what was a really great month for us last year and just coming back and giving it another go.”

But one thing different about this year is that Montoya is set to drive the #6 Chevrolet, a number that, prior to last Saturday, hadn’t been run by the team since 2018 when they were still known as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports — before their deal with McLaren, and even before their title partnership deal with Arrow Electronics.

The most recent driver of the #6 car was Carlos Munoz, who drove it at Portland International Raceway and Sonoma Raceway in 2018. But the significance of its absence since then goes back earlier in the season to Robert Wickens.

Wickens competed for the team as a rookie in 2018 until he was involved in a horrific crash at Pocono Raceway that left him paralyzed from the waist down. The #6 car, then a Honda, wasn’t run at Gateway the week after the crash, but it returned with Munoz behind the wheel for the season’s final two races.

Despite his injuries, Wickens vowed to do his best to make a return to IndyCar. Team owner Sam Schmidt even added that if Wickens were to ever be capable of returning, he would have his seat behind the wheel of the #6 car waiting for him.

Before the 2020 Indy 500, Schmidt, a quadriplegic himself, spoke directly to Beyond the Flag and confirmed that this promise still stood.

“Absolutely,” he stated. “We have the rights to 5, 6 and 7, and that number 6 is reserved for him, which is why we’re running 66 for Fernando [Alonso] this next week. But if he can figure out the control and show us how he can be fast, he’s definitely got a seat.”

But before the 2022 season, Wickens admitted that a return to IndyCar “doesn’t seem feasible”, though he has still managed to compete in other forms of motorsport as he continues to recover from the injuries he suffered during the wreck.

Wickens finished in ninth place in his rookie Indy 500 attempt four years ago.

While the seat is still technically open for him if he is able to return, it seems that the team have at least moved forward in a certain respect, bringing back the number 6 for Montoya this time around.

The irony of it all is that Wickens’s rookie season, despite the fact that he didn’t find victory lane during it, was arguably the strongest rookie season since Montoya’s stellar 1999 CART campaign, in which he won the title with seven wins in 20 races.

dark. Next. Top 25 IndyCar drivers of all-time

The 106th running of the Indy 500 is scheduled to take place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 29, with live coverage set to begin on NBC at 11:00 a.m. ET. Montoya is set to start in 30th place in the 33-car field, with teammates O’Ward and Rosenqvist in seventh and eighth, respectively. Start your free trial of FuboTV now!